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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Stories of Imagination, Invention, and Accomplishment

Recently, the man behind the Weed Eater passed away. His invention, which we can't imagine yard work without, wasn't invented by a lawn company's army of engineers in search of a marketable product. Instead, an Air Force veteran of World War II and the Korean War who, two decades after his service, was enjoying success managing dance studios came up with the idea for a string trimmer. Why? His lawn worker was bitten by a copperhead as he was using shears, which got him wondering about an alternative tool. George Ballas got the idea for his trimmer from watching the spinning bristles in a car wash and rigged up a prototype with a tin can and wires. His is a great American story of invention.

For a couple of other stories of great American invention and accomplishment, on a larger scale, we've taken some time to read The Empire State Building and The Hoover Dam, by Elizabeth Mann. Part of a series of books called "Wonders of the World Books," both books captivated our boys. We marveled at the courage of the New York ironworkers who were perched high above the city working in four-man teams assembling giant steel beams. The heater grabbed a hot rivet from the charcoal with tongs and tossed it to the catcher. Sometimes 75 feet away, the catcher snagged the flying hot rivet with his bucket, then handed it off with tongs to the two-man hammering team. Using gloved hands, one man put the hot mushroom-shaped rivet into the hole while his partner air-hammered in the softened iron rivet. Sometimes teams could install two rivets per minute. Amazing.

Just as the Empire State Building was rising above the Manhattan skyline in the early 1930s, over in the West workers were blasting diversion tunnels into the sides of Black Canyon, preparing to divert the mighty Colorado river so the new dam could be built. Mann tells the incredible tale of the how the Hoover Dam was built in life-threatening conditions by workers who, in spite of the suffering, were thankful for their job.

Both books highlight the human side of these engineering accomplishments, all the while explaining the inspiring design behind the process. Whether it be the trailblazing design of steel-frame skyscrapers rather than the old design of brick bearing-walls, or the twin objectives of water-management and electricity-production met in the giant dam, Mann's books make these concepts understandable to even our five-year-old son.

Next up, The Brooklyn Bridge. Mann's book series also includes books on more ancient wonders such as the Pyramids, Machu Picchu, and the Parthenon, for starters.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Birthday Musings

I recently turned 39. It is surely a universal sentiment of all who turn 39,  but it must be said that it is difficult to believe that I am on the eve of being 40 years old. I'm surprised to realize that the passing of time is more burdensome than I expected. Even as I "look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come," I confess that I hold tightly--too tightly no doubt--to my life in this world.

So it was startling to open my Bible on the morning of my birthday and discover that my devotional reading happened to have me reading Psalm 39. Funny but meaningless coincidence, I thought. Coincidence shifted to Divine Providence when I proceeded to read the Psalm.

1 I said, "I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence."

2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.

3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

4 "O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!

5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!

6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

7 "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
9  I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
10  Remove your stroke from me;
I am spent by the hostility of your hand.

11 When you discipline a man
with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath!

12  "Hear my prayer, O LORD,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers.
13  Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!"

Indeed, we are sojourners here, guests like all our fathers. May I spend my moments delighting in the LORD and remembering that He is my hope.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Justice and Mercy

The water cooler talk is all about the latest trial of the decade and recent verdict, which many people believe to be a miscarriage of justice. The whole affair has largely gone unnoticed by us (not being cable subscribers), but it is hard to miss the anger and shock post-verdict reverberating over Twitter and Facebook.

It has me reflecting on justice and mercy. Juries declare defendants not guilty based on evidence and it isn't their place, at least in theory, to extend mercy in the face of unreasonable doubt. Yet God is sovereign over temporal court systems and when justice seems to be miscarried by our eyes, one has to wonder at God's granting of temporal mercy.

On the other hand, when God grants life and temporal blessings of any kind to those who deny him, He is granting temporal mercy.

2 Peter 3:9 says,
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

But He is a just God and justice will be done in the Day of the Lord. Aren't we quick to love justice for others and mercy for ourselves?

"Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation."

God extends eternal mercy to those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ. When He gives temporal mercy to the unrepentant, it is a sign of His Divine patience, for there is not eternal mercy in store for the unrepentant one.  Enjoying divine temporal mercy without securing divine eternal mercy is living on death row.

Having been given eternal mercy, one finds that extending mercy and grace to others is suddenly much easier. Or, as Shakespeare says, our prayer for mercy teaches us to render the deeds of mercy. There is no better reflection on mercy than Portia's beseeching of the court of Venice to extend mercy to Antonio:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of they plea,
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

(From Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene I, emphasis mine)
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